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Harvest 2014: Week 6 – Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

As you may have guessed from the title this week’s post is less about harvest and more about the significant weight that has been in the back of my mind for the past 3 months; awaiting the results of my Master of Wine exam from June.

We are receiving our last Pinot Noir today for the season.  So far the quality looks amazing.  My native ferment went dry last week and we have started pressing off the first tanks that we received a few weeks ago.  All in all it was an extremely smooth, although extremely early, Pinot harvest.  Chardonnay looks like it might be wrapped up in 2-2 1/2 weeks and the Bordeaux varieties are coming on so strong that people are starting to joke that harvest might be finished by October 1st!  The weather has been perfect for ripening.  Warm but not too hot days followed by cool, slightly chilly nights.  The acids are staying relatively high on the Cabernets which points to an exciting vintage so far.  It is still too early to say however.

But enough about harvest…

For those of you who know me (or those of you who have been following my blog for the past 4 1/2 years. Thank you by the way if so!) you are up to speed on my long struggle to pass the Master of Wine exam.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not know if I passed or not.  I had considered writing two (a pass and a fail post) until I realized I would be saying much the same thing so I am writing this post prior to receiving any results to try to get all my thoughts down in writing prior to my emotions taking control once the results are announced.  If you would like to see my last three posts regarding MW exam results Fail 2, Fail 3 (on which I also passed theory so not entirely a fail), and Fail 4 click on the links.

This time is different.  There are only two options for me.  I passed and can move on to my research paper or I failed and am out of the MW program completely.  It makes me queasy at this point just thinking about it.  It is the feeling you get when you have 3 numbers of a mega millions lottery and are just waiting for another one to fall into place multiplied by 1000!  It’s excitement, dread, second-guessing, hopeful optimism, reasoned pessimism, self-doubt and confidence rolled all into one tangled ball of emotions.  At no point in the program did I ever, even for a second, allow myself to think that I would not make it.  That is until this past summer post exam.  At this point I felt that it would be mentally healthier to prepare for another fail than to maintain the hopeful optimism of a pass.  That way I could be pleasantly surprised when the results came out if a pass was what I received.  In the moments after I finished the last paper in June, I was struck by an acute sense of sadness.  I looked at my fellow students and realized that we would never again share the camaraderie that comes from studying for the MW.  I also realized that if I had not passed, I would also not be able to enjoy the company of my fellow students and the MW’s as much as I had over the past 6 years and I came to realize I would regret that more than not getting the initials if that were indeed what happened.  So in this post I would like to try and thank as many of the people that have helped and supported me to this point as I can.  It is by no means an exhaustive list but here it goes…

First of all, my amazing husband, Brian, for putting up with the crazy weekend tastings, my roller coaster of emotions over the past 6 years, financing a horribly high expenditure for wine every month not to mention the tuition and exam fees, and taking care of our son when I had to be at tastings, events, and the exam itself.

Secondly, to my extended family, my parents, and my in-laws, who have always been supportive of my pursuit even though I don’t think they understood what I was trying to do for the first 3 years.  They’ve figured it out now.

Thirdly, to an amazing list of friends and colleagues, without which  I know I would not be where I am today.  This is kind of in chronological order.

Chuck and Jen Van Fleet of Vino and Friends – for searching out a Hunter Valley Shiraz in Fresno so I could taste it and write an answer for it on my MW application

Mark De Vere, MW – For being my sponsor on my application.

Mark Ebaugh – My boss at Mission Bell who believed in me enough to fund my Diploma and my first year as an MW student.

Barbra Phillip, MW – My mentor for my first 5 years in the program.  Thank you for all your faith in me and for all the advice.  I hope I worked hard enough to make all your faith in me pay off.

Bob Betz, MW – For proving to me that winemakers can become MWs!

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW – For giving me “You have to be and MW to pass the MW” speech.  Also the “Yoda” speech.  You are my “Yoda” for the MW program! Thanks for all the philosophy.

Lisa Granik, MW – Thank you for being so real about the program.  You scared the crap out of me the first year and that made me want to work harder to reach the bar that you set for all of us.  Thank you as well for listening to all my dissertation ideas and guiding me to develop what I thought were two really good dissertation topics.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to execute and submit the final one.

Joel Butler, MW – For being an all around great guy and always positive.

Peter Marks, MW – For always hosting tastings that were so much more tricky than the exam.  I always thought that if I was able to pass a tasting with you I would have no trouble on the exam.

Jean-Michel Valette, MW – Thank you for all your great lectures on the wine business.  I think I finally “got it” the 3rd lecture and it helped me pass Theory paper 3!

Siobhan Turner – For telling people to think if they needed to be in the exam prep group when it was over crowded.  I did.  I think half of that room probably didn’t need to be.  Thanks for all the support over the years.  I hope I can be as supportive for you on your journey now that you are the student.

Sheri Morano, MW – Thanks for all the “Mommy” advice and for the faith and support!

Ed Killian and the entire family at Asti Winery in Cloverdale, CA – Thank you for your emotional and financial support.  Without it, I would not have been able to get this far in the program.  You guys are an amazing team and I always knew you had my back!

My fellow students including Elaine Marshall, Maria Sinskey, JP Turgeon, Maureen Downey, Luiz Alberto, and Stacy Woods - Thanks for all the great times and good conversations. Elaine, thanks for your Bordeaux notes!!!

My fellow students who achieved the dream! – Adam Lapierre, MW and Liz Thach, MW

Louise Wilson- Thanks for sharing “baby mama” space with me during the seminar!

Eric Heimer, MS, MW – Thanks for the unwavering support and the friendly trade of Viticulture and Winemaking knowledge for practical tasting knowledge.

Robert Mondavi Winery and Constellation Team – Thank you for all your well wishes and support.  Hopefully I have good news for you but if not I really appreciate all the time and effort you have taken to help me out in the last two years of my pursuit. For the Constellation Europe Group – Thank you for an amazing trip to London and Germany.  I was able to glean so much tasting knowledge from that trip.

Martin Reyes – Thanks for keeping me company and navigating on our grand adventure in Germany! I really enjoyed our conversations and I wish you the best of luck in parenthood and the MW program!

Christian Seely and the entire AXA Millesimes group- For sponsoring such an amazing tour of Bordeaux, Sauternes and Burgundy.  Your generosity astounded me!

My fellow AXA scholarship winners – Anne Krebiehl (Freelance Wine Writer), Ray O’Connor (Commercial Manager for the International Wine Challenge), Patrick Schmitt (Editor at the Drinks Business), and Nigel Sneyd (Winemaker for E&J Gallo). You guys made that trip so much more amazing than it would have been on my own.  Anne- Special thanks for rooming with me in San Francisco this year.  I really enjoyed having the company and the shoulder to cry on.

My fellow Musketeers – Dave Forer and Matt Deller.  You guys made the journey so much fun.  All for one and one for all!  If you didn’t make it this year (and I hope you did!) you’ve got to keep at it.  Don’t give up!

Amy Christine, MW and Pat Farrell, MW – My mentors for my last year. Thanks for tag teaming me this past year and helping get me in the best tasting shape I have ever been in.  You guys are awesome!

Like I said above, this is not an exhaustive list but I hope everyone knows how critical they were in my success in the program.  Regardless of my results from the exam, I feel I have been successful.  I have grown, learned, and experienced far more than I could have ever done on my own without being involved in the program.  I am happy with my results regardless if the exam results say pass or fail.

Actual Results: FAIL. D, C, D. Worst grades I’ve had since my first exam. That means I’m out. Thank you all for reading.

 

 

 

 

Harvest 2014: Week 1 – WITH GRAPES!!!

Welcome to the first installment of my annual weekly harvest update!  I have been doing this portion of my blog since 2010.  Week 1 is always the first week in August regardless of fruit or not.  I originally picked the first week in August because I thought it would be the earliest any fruit would come in.  This year due to the super early harvest we are having, that thought proved to be correct.  This year Week 1 also coincides with seeing our first grapes at the winery.  We are picking Sauvignon Blanc on Wednesday.  This is the earliest non-sparkling harvest that I have experienced in my 8 years in California.  Heck, it’s the earliest non-sparkling harvest that I’ve ever experienced in any region I’ve worked in.  I suppose that is what the warmest vintage in over 15 years will do for you.

Last year we received grapes on Week 2. In 2011, we were still going through veraison and didn’t get moving until Week 5, just to give you an idea of the wide swings from those extreme vintages.  Hopefully I don’t need to adjust my calendar to include a Week “0″.

The weather this summer has been hot and relatively humid for this area.  Powdery Mildew has been rampant and growers have had to really watch their spray programs.  We’ve had multiple days over the 100 degree mark and what seems to me warmer nights for the area (upper 50s and low 60s at night although I have no actual evidence to support the claim that the nights are warmer than usual).

My prediction from earlier in the season, just after flowering, seems to have been spot on.  The ripeness within the clusters are all over the place.  Cluster sampling for harvest Brix will be a must this year.  Veraison was nice and even in 2013 and very rapid which led to a very even harvest.  This year Veraison has taken almost a month and in some clusters there are still green berries with berry samples approaching 20 Brix!  Not fun. I had thought that we would be able to counter act the further behind fruit during the green drop however since it seems to be a berry by berry issue that will only be helped by harvest timing.  Understanding what the average sugar, acid, and flavor profile of a particular block is will be key to making the best wine this year.  Best case scenario and one that I am excited about in the Pinot Noir is that this variability of ripeness will allow for lots of complexity in the final wines.  The less ripe fruit will provide acid and backbone while the more ripe fruit will add body and fruit.  Picking when the average of the two are ripe may result in some amazing wines with fresh acid but ripe fruit profiles.  Picking too early will result in green tannins with harsh acids and picking too late may result in prune raisin characters.

Then there are the vineyards which may need to be picked twice like the one below.

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Half of the vine is through veraison and is moving towards harvest.  The other half of the same vine with a younger trunk is not even thinking about veraison or harvest!  This will have to be harvested in two passes.  Pinot is just too delicate to try to average fruit this spread out.

Meanwhile, there is this little issue of water.  Well, ok, it is a really big issue.  Most of our growers are still ok but I know of growers who are not.  All you have to do is drive around the valley and check out the irrigation ponds to know that if we don’t get rain this winter, we are in serious trouble.  Funny enough, our dry farmed blocks of To Kalon look fine.  They aren’t even stressed.  Granted the yields are much lower than our irrigated blocks (1-2 tons/acre as opposed to 4 tons per acre) but should we be looking at returning the valley to dry farming to protect our water resources?  Granted, not every vineyard can be dry farmed and not every rootstock does well with dry farming, however I think we should really take a second look at it.

Update 8/6/14:  Our first grapes arrived today despite some scattered showers yesterday.

Vintage 2014: Veraison

While we enjoyed a much needed vacation something was happening here in Napa. The very start of Veraison came about while we were gone. We also had some fire issues in the Northeastern part of the county so I’m hoping we don’t see any smoke taint in the reds this year like we did in Sonoma in 2008. This picture was taken the day we came back on July 3rd and is the table grape in my back yard a full 2.5 weeks early!

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I knew I needed to get out and see what was happening in the vineyards and sure enough, I saw the flowing picture walking into the winery last Monday.

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That is Cabernet Sauvignon at To Kalon. Granted that these are young vines planted in in 2011 so they are ahead of the average vine this year, but the general progression is moving very rapidly. Pinot Noir in Carneros is moving right along as well with
some blocks well through 50% Veraison. Right now it looks like mid August for the start of harvest. It’s coming on fast!
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